THE SOURCE: “Was There Really a Hawthorne Effect at the Hawthorne Plant? An Analysis of the Original Illumination Experiments” by Steven D. Levitt and John A. List, in American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, Jan. 2011.
In 1924 the National Research Council ran a now famous experiment at Western Electric’s Hawthorne plant in Cicero, Illinois. The researchers asked a simple question: Does better lighting make workers more productive? They were surprised by what they found. Productivity improved regardless of whether the lights were low or high.
The unexpected results gave rise to one of the key insights of modern psychology, later named the Hawthorne effect: Researchers can change the behavior of their subjects merely by studying them. More broadly, the mere fact of paying attention to people makes them more productive. The Hawthorne study helped usher in a whole field of research, called industrial psychology; influenced the shape of ideas about human relations and management; and shaped the fundamentals of experimental design.
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